By Frances Coppola
Though often overlooked, points programs can be used to reward and motivate individual employees or teams, thus helping to improve employee morale, engagement, and retention.
Many employees appreciate being able to use the points they have built up on their corporate cards to buy treats for themselves and their families. Rather than pooling points and using them to defray business expenses, therefore, SMEs can opt to allow employees to keep their points.
Allowing employees to keep reward points can encourage them to use company rather than personal credit cards for business expenses, which can help an SME keep better control of business expenses incurred by employees. For example, if a company has a busy sales force that is constantly on the road, travel expenses can be complex to administer. Hard-pressed managers could use rewards as an idea to persuade sales employees to pay for all travel expenses with their business credit cards.
A potential downside of allowing employees to keep reward points is that the points can’t be transferred to the employee’s personal credit cards.1 If the rewards program doesn’t suit the employee, or they don’t use the business card enough to build up a significant points balance, the employee still may lose out. This can create difficulties for SMEs wishing to use points-based rewards or recognition programs to motivate certain types of employee: for example, administrative staff who are mainly office-based may get much less benefit from keeping reward points than sales staff doing frequent business trips.
It is also important that the company makes it clear to employees, in writing, about the idea that reward points are theirs to use. Otherwise, rewards points belong to the card owner, which in the case of a business credit card is the company, not the employee. Using reward points without the company’s permission would be seen as a breach of trust.
Rather than allowing employees to buy individual rewards with points built up on their business cards, SMEs could opt to pool the points built up by all employees and use them for things that benefit the whole team.
An employee reward idea along these lines is for the business to use reward points to pay for team social events. The credit card specialist website creditcards.com cites an example of a California-based company which uses reward points to throw parties for its workforce.2 Alternative reward ideas might include weekends away for the whole team, or visits to the theater, concerts or sports events.
Some companies use rewards to subsidize the cost of equipment that employees would normally pay for themselves: creditcards.com gives an example of a rheumatologist’s office which uses rewards to help pay for scrubs and stethoscopes for its medical staff. SMEs could also use rewards to buy fun equipment for the office, such as football tables and beer fridges.3 Rewards can also be used to make business trips more comfortable for employees. For example, a company could use rewards to partially defray the cost of flight or hotel upgrades.
Companies could also buy gift cards with rewards points and give them to employees, for example as Christmas presents. Alternatively, companies could donate reward points to charities of the workforce’s choice.
Pooled corporate card reward points don’t have to be used only on things that benefit the entire team. They could also be used to reward or motivate selected employees, whether high performers, new team members or simply people who don’t have many opportunities to get out of the office.
For example, rewards can be used to buy mini-vacations. The online financial magazine Nerdwallet reports that one small business used its reward points to send an office-based employee, who had never traveled overseas before, on a mini-vacation to Paris. The employee not only appreciated the holiday, she came back inspired with lots of creative ideas for product development.4
Other ideas for rewarding selected employees include theater and concert tickets, overnight hotel stays, gift cards, and temporary use of luxury cars.5
Cash flow is important, but so too is employee engagement. Creative ideas using corporate rewards programs to reward employees can help to motivate individual staff members and improve the performance of the entire workforce, which may ultimately benefit an SME’s bottom line.
With 17 years’ experience in the financial industry, Frances is a highly regarded writer and speaker on banking, finance and economics. She writes regularly for the Financial Times, Forbes and a range of financial industry publications. Her writing has featured in The Economist, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She is a frequent commentator on TV, radio and online news media including the BBC and RT TV.
1. “8 Ways to Use Credit Card Points to Motivate Employees,” The Points Guy https://thepointsguy.com/guide/use-points-to-reward-employees/
2. “Small businesses get creative with card rewards,” CreditCards.com; https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/small-business-rewards-employee-retention.php
3. “8 Ways to Use Credit Card Points to Motivate Employees,” The Points Guy https://thepointsguy.com/guide/use-points-to-reward-employees/
4. “The Cool Way One Small Business Uses Credit Card Rewards,” Nerdwallet https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/send-employee-vacation-maximize-business-credit-card-rewards/
5. “8 Ways to Use Credit Card Points to Motivate Employees,” The Points Guy https://thepointsguy.com/guide/use-points-to-reward-employees/